Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Understanding RIE Principles: Outdoors

As an educator, I'm always trying to widen my teaching spectrum. I've been familiar with the RIE approach to teaching and learning but not to the extent that Tumbleweed embraces. When I first studied the RIE method in college, I was under the impression that it was geared only towards infants. I recently read a quote off of that stated:

"When allowed to unfold in their own way and in their own time, children discover the best in themselves and in others."
Its not just for infants. 
This quote and philosophy is directly related to any age group.

I wanted to put Magda Gerber's principles to the test and see what I could discover, observe and learn from my new class outside.

  • An environment for the child that is physically safe, cognitively challenging and emotionally nurturing.
 I observed A, L, and C painting on the side of the bin with a paintbrush as they told each other stories of what they were creating. An environment rich in natural materials creates opportunities that are sure to spark the imagination with limited guidance on my part. In this setting the child is the teacher and educator all in one.
  • Time for uninterrupted play.
 I overheard H talking to the dinosaurs one by one saying, "You'll be clean soon, don't worry" as she scrubbed them gently in the water. By letting H have time for herself, I was able to witness her using kind, gentle behavior she had observed from others and used it in practice, which can be beneficial in future interactions with children.

  • Freedom to explore and interact with other children.
By letting E and B explore the bamboo, they created an imaginary world about their hiding place and how they can explore and play in it with each other. This struck up a conversation between the two of them that included sharing, kind language, and being aware of other's feelings.
  • Involvement of the child in all activities to allow the child to become an active participant rather than a passive recipient. 
It would of been easy for E to ask for help up the tree, but I saw him struggle with the thought of trying it for himself or asking for help. Instead, I offered him encouraging words that made him feel more confidant in himself. "I can do this by myself, I don't need help." he replied. Having E becoming an active participant in the outcome of his thoughts about climbing the tree made him realize that doing things for himself was a greater reward in the end.
  • Sensitive observation of the child in order to understand his or her needs.
J was adamant about filling the empty bottle with water at the bin and leaving. At first, I told him that the water objects should be used at the water area, but I could tell he wasn't receptive to this request. I asked him what his plan was for the bottles and he lead me to the wooden wall and expressed how he waned to try and squeeze all the water out the bottle onto the wood. By observing his needs and compromising with J, another opportunity for exploration and learning was created that tested his fine motor skills.
  • Consistency, clearly defined limits and expectations to develop discipline.
E wanted to create a "tsunami wave" while B wanted the boat to be in calmer waters. I suggested to them both to try and think of a solution that would make them both feel like their needs were being met. E picked up a wooden block and started making gentle waves, looking over at B and asking if the waves were "too big or too small." B exclaimed that the waves were perfect, and continued on playing. The defined limits of knowing each other's needs helped B and E come up with a solution that were clear.

Most of what I mentioned above happened in a time frame of one hour in one day. I'm constantly witnessing moments like these throughout the day and am still in shock with the abundance of care and time the children put into these principles without even knowing what they are or even mean. As I continue to learn and adapt to the RIE mode, I make sure to take a lesson from the children I have the privilege to surround myself with everyday;

Sometimes you need to let your mind wander. Adapt to your surroundings with an ease that feels comfortable for you. Experience new opportunities presented to you.

And just play.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Painting Together

Since Cohorts 10 + 12 combined in the back room of the Infant House in June, one of our favorite activities has been painting.  
No matter what type of paint, combinations of colors, kind of brush or paper we offer, the children are always excited to see paint available.  One of the ways the two groups of toddlers have connected and seen each other is through making art together: both collaborating on big, messy painting projects, and sitting close while working on individual, smaller pieces.  
The children are skillful observers; they love to notice a friend doing something they haven't seen before and give it a try, and also to encourage others to try something new that they have discovered.
This week I offered a simple provocation: a square of white paper, a small bowl of black tempera paint, and fine paint brushes.  I was curious to see what the children would focus on when there was only one color available.  This set up seemed to invite quiet and reflective work - the table was nearly silent as children painted.  

I noticed lots of interest in brush technique: what happens if I dot my brush lightly on the paper?  What changes if I press down hard?  What if I use only the side of my brush?
As these inquiries were quietly made by each child, often a neighbor at the table would watching closely, observing what their friend was up to, sometimes quietly trying out the same technique, and sometimes simply returning to their own work.

Later in the week we returned to painting.  This time I offered each child a sturdy rectangle of watercolor paper, a wider paintbrush, and a palette with five colors of liquid watercolor, diluted with a little water.  Immediately, the atmosphere around the table was social - each child wanted to name their colors and was eager to talk about their plans for their painting: "I'm gonna mix the colors up,"  "I'm using yellow paint!" "Purple! Purple!"

Again, I noticed lots of close observation by each child of their friends' work.  This time, there were many more comments.  I was struck by the children's ability to comment on specific and objective qualities of the work around them: what colors were being used, the pressure with which a brush was being held, whether lines were straight or "curvy."

As an adult facilitating appreciating children's work with art, it can be hard not to revert to phrases like "It's beautiful!" or even "I love it!" (because, of course, these things are true!) and listening to the children comment on one another's work was a great reminder of the types of comments that are more meaningful to children: not offering judgement of the work but noticing details and technique, and inviting kids to join us in looking closely.

Painting is just one type of art activity we offer at Tumbleweed, and it's been amazing to see it become so important to the group, both in moments of quiet, focused work, and more social and high energy exploration of materials.  As the children continue to build their skills, including fine-motor control, planning, and observation, I'm eager to see where their work at the painting table leads them next!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Whole Body Exploration

Babies are amazing!  The world is so very new for them and they explore it with abandon!

Being back with infants after spending a year and a half with toddlers reminded me of the ways that infants explore the world around them.  Not only are their five senses engaged, but also their whole body helps them explore new materials and a new environment.

Listening to the sounds around them…

Tasting and feeling with their mouths…

Looking closely at objects and the room…

Holding and touching everything within grasp, including people, objects, or parts of the room…

Using their whole body, like kicking against a basket to feel it or rolling from wooden floor to carpet, to get a sense of the environment around them…

Infants are so amazing how they experience the world around them with all of their senses and their whole body!!

Monday, August 7, 2017

But Why?: A Realization on Limitation

But why?

During my first week at Tumbleweed,  I heard this question more than I've ever heard in my years of teaching, which came as a surprise to me. Children at the preschool age are at a crucial time in their life, constantly questioning, absorbing, and learning while at the same time adapting to new situations. Understandably, it can be a bit overwhelming to children, making them ask the infamous question we all know so well: "But why?"

The question is a situational one, and can come at unpredictable times. Even though I heard it often this week, there was one occasion that stuck with me and made me truly ponder what the statement "be careful" means to me as an educator. 

 While on the playground I observed B and E playing a game that involved them running towards a wooden wall while at the same time grasping for the rope to keep them afoot on the wall. Not being fully aware of their full potential, I intervened and called out "Be careful." E looked at me and without skipping a beat called back, "But why?"

I didn't have a response back, and realizing my mistake told him he was right and that he knew his body and limits more than I could ever understand.  He smiled back, said that's OK and continued to run, climb and have a blast testing the limits of his body.

Its important to recognize when there are limits set on children that could possible be detrimental to their full potential.  How are they to learn, adapt, and grown if strict limits and negative language is placed on them during crucial learning opportunities?  The event that happened that day on the playground made me stop and reevaluate how often I use the term "be careful" as a filler instead of fully evaluating the growing opportunity that has been presented to me.

The very next day I was presented with more opportunities that could of ended with me stating  "be careful". Instead of intervening, I made myself present to them and sat back to observe and let the children grown, adapt and learn on their own. Whenever I felt tempted to utter the words again in the situations that I felt could potentially be crucial learning opportunities, I instead thought to myself,

Why not?

Sunday, June 4, 2017

"How Do I Look?" Fostering Positive Self and Body Image in Preschoolers

      I've recently been seeing articles floating around the Web about about shocking studies finding that body image awareness - and negative body image - starts as young as preschool (  While this statement is indeed sobering, I consider myself fortunate to teach in a preschool where this information is considered fairly common knowledge.  We recognize the importance of intentionally fostering positive self image in our preschoolers, and we see the parents of our kids doing the same.  We often turn praise back to the children - when asked if their artwork is beautiful, we try to comment on a particular element: their use of dark blue here, the lines in the corner, their choice to crumple and glue their paper just so - and then ask them how they feel about it.  In doing so, we reinforce the fact that their unique work and intentional artistic choices are important to us, as well as fostering their own sense of pride based on specific elements of their work.

 Another way we work toward fostering positive self-image is by moving past the experience of preschoolers as "cute" or "adorable."  Of course, my co-teachers and I think that all of our preschoolers are precious little people and we love them dearly!  But we work to see them as so much more than just cute, and we make sure that they know this.  By viewing preschoolers as smart, capable, unique young individuals, and commenting on what we notice about their developing personalities and traits, we give credit to all of their many traits and skills, which are developing and growing every day.

         Sometimes, making comments about personality traits or communication skills we notice developing can feel very difficult; after all, these traits often present themselves in the form of testing boundaries and pushing limits with adults.  During these times, it can also help us as caregivers to focus on the positive indications of these behaviors, even if just to move past feelings of annoyance in that moment into a sense of acceptance and optimism.

       Take, for example, the classic case of a toddler or preschooler who constantly asks questions and chats about every tiny thing they notice.  As a parent or teacher, this can quickly become draining and frustrating.  If, however, we try to focus on what this chatter indicates about the child - that she is developing super effective communication skills, is learning the structure of language through different forms of questions, is demonstrating a deep curiosity and a thirst for knowledge - and if we can turn this back to her by commenting on and praising her for her curiosity, we are taking the opportunity to foster a highly confident, curious, knowledge-loving young person who will probably be inspired to learn to read as soon as possible.

        This same attitude can be turned toward kids testing in more intense ways, while still maintaining the boundaries that work for you.  "It definitely doesn't work for you to hit things with a baseball bat inside the house, but I see that you are really enjoying moving your body in such big ways.  Your strong body will probably be great at baseball or gymnastics.  You can try those things outside!"
Or, "I won't let you hit your sister.  You were upset that she took your toy, and you were trying to tell her that!  I can see that you are someone who really knows what you want and need.  Let's see if we can tell her in a different way."

       By commenting on and praising what we notice about the children's hard work, unique personality traits, and dedicated interests as often as or even more often than we compliment them on their appearance, we're encouraging their own sense of individuality and pride in aspects of themselves that are lifelong; their appearance right now, after all, is temporary and primarily out of their control.  If we focus on aspects of them that they can control and foster, they will have a strong foundation and understanding of themselves; when they are faced with negative messages about bodies and body image they will be well-armed to combat them with grace and confidence.

         Of course, we all comment on appearances sometimes, and that's totally okay!  At Tumbleweed, we try to keep these comments in the realm of "I notice" and "how do you feel" statements instead of - or in addition to - projecting our own opinions.  For example, we might say:

"Woah, I just noticed you have a cool new truck shirt on today!  You really love trucks, don't you?"  
"That beautiful dress is so long and flowy.  It looks like it's great for twirling around.  I bet you feel pretty good in that!"
"You got a new haircut!  How does that feel?  Would you tell us the story of what happened when you got your hair cut?"

 Instead of saying:

"You look cute in that new truck shirt!"
"You look so beautiful in that dress!"
"It looks like you got a handsome new big boy haircut!" 
Again, engaging children in these conversations about how they feel
and why they intentionally choose their clothes and hairstyles based on things such as favorite colors, comfort, and interests instead of simply "because it's cute" instills a sense of pride and ownership over their appearance.

Here are some more great tips on raising a body positive kid, from the article at :

1. Avoid stereotypes in your kids' media -- starting when kids are in preschool. Look for TV shows, movies, and other media that portray healthy body sizes and avoid sexualized or stereotypical story lines or gendered characters, such as young girls in makeup or boys who are always macho.
  • Pay attention to kids' beliefs about gender and body types, and use simple language to debunk stereotypes: "What do you think Andy would like for his birthday? Trucks? Do you think he'd like dolls, too?"
  • Whenever possible, use gender-neutral or gender-diverse pronouns to reference characters, animals, and so on. For example, not every dinosaur is a "he" and every kitten a "she."

2. Call out stereotypes when you see them. When you see gender stereotypes in media -- for example, during sporting events such as the Super Bowl -- talk about them.
  • As much as possible, minimize exposure to stereotypical depictions of men and women, but when kids see them, demonstrate that questioning how men and women are portrayed is valuable (and even fun). Ask: "Do you think she's cold in that bikini?"
  • Teach kids how magazine and advertising photos are changed by computers to make skin look smoother or people look taller. Make a game out of it: Spot the Photoshop!

3. Challenge assumptions. Ask kids what they think about heavyset or slim toys or characters on TV and in movies. Keep an ear out for kids expressing assumptions about real people based on their body sizes.
  • Remind kids that bodies come in all shapes and sizes (even Barbie now offers size and ethnic variety!) -- even if they don't see that on TV -- and that variety is normal, healthy, and part of what makes life interesting.
  • Tap into preschoolers' ability to empathize by asking how they think a TV character felt when criticized for his or her appearance. Ask: "How would you feel if someone teased you like that?"

4. Ban "fat talk" in your family. Parents -- especially mothers -- who complain about their appearances or bodies, even casually, make a big impact on how their kids think about their bodies.
  • Model a positive attitude toward your own body, and encourage kids to think positively about what their bodies can do. Ask: "What can you do with those strong arms?"
  • Discuss health instead of weight or size. Ask: "How does your body feel when you play sports/exercise/run around?" Say: "My body feels so energetic when I eat healthy food."
FACTS: According to Common Sense Media's Children, Teens, Media, and Body Image, kids who think their moms don't like their bodies end up not liking their own bodies. And girls whose dads are critical of their weight tend to think of themselves as less physically able than those whose dads don't.

5. Focus on behavior, talents, and character traits instead of physical size or appearance. When discussing fictional characters, celebrities, and friends and family, talk about what they do, not what they look like.
  • Talk about qualities such as kindness, curiosity, and perseverance that you value more than appearance. Ask: "What makes a good friend?" Say: "She must have practiced for a long time to be good at dancing!"
  • Prepare kids for when they hear others commenting, comparing, or criticizing bodies or appearance. Role-play situations where kids can try out different responses, such as, "I don't care what she looks like. She's friendly, and that's what matters to me."

The key to all of this?  Conversation.  It's so important to discuss with children the types of stereotypes we see and unpack some of the subconscious assumptions they may already have about bodies - skin color, size, gender, ability.  Doing so will help them think critically about injustices they see throughout their lives, and it will help them gain the skills necessary to shield themselves and others from society's prejudices.  These preschoolers are so amazing...they deserve to grow up knowing just how special they are, in so many ways!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Storytelling and Transcribing

We have a lot of dice in our classroom. They're everywhere! Traditional dot number dice in the wooden small parts tray, written number and letter dice for provocation activities, and story dice. These last ones are a favorite in our class, and small groups of children can often be found gathered around the little illustrated cubes. They inspire creative storytelling and are intentionally open-ended in their illustrations to allow for lots of different interpretations.

When used in small groups, these story dice can lead to amazing collaborative stories and are a useful supplement for conversations about the choices that authors make, such as story structure, plot, character development, setting, timeline, and illustration. 

During one such small group, we approached the story dice pretty freely; I intentionally left out specific guidance to see where the story would organically flow. Each of us held a die in our hands and we took turns rolling, interpreting the image, and finding a way to weave these interpretations into our ever-growing story.  The first child, VM, was responsible for choosing the title, and therefore, the theme, of our story. She rolled her die and saw a picture of a crab. "King Crab's Castle" would be our title. From this title, we could decide that the main character was King Crab, and the story would be something about his life or his castle.

After ten minutes or so, we had crafted a story about a crab who lives under the sea and who finds many exciting things, including a mysterious golden egg and a magical crown. 

After our story naturally wound down (spoiler: the crab dies after eating a poisonous mushroom, which makes him both angry and sick!) I revealed a secret: I had been recording the entire story-writing process on my phone! Our next job was to listen to our fresh story and transcribe it. 

As we listened to our voices telling our story, each child chose an element that stood out to them - a bejeweled cup, the crown, the king's castle, or the crab itself- and illustrated it collaboratively on our large sheet of paper.

As we worked, we discovered that each of us pictured the story and its setting and characters slightly differently. For example, VM, CC, and OM all chose to incorporate the crab into their drawings, and all three of these crab drawings naturally looked quite different from one another.  But we realized that since our story lived in our minds and had previously only been told in words, it totally worked to have different interpretations. This is what makes our story collaborative! We also began noticing more details being added that were not mentioned in our original telling of the story, which filled out our illustration work and made it into quite a unique masterpiece.

In the end, everyone's individual artistic styles and interpretations came together, and we were so proud to see our finished story after working so hard.  We had worked from start to finish - from brainstorming story topics and weaving a story with the help of our beloved story dice, to "transcribing" through illustration.  Just as a book illustrator would, we listened to and thought carefully about the story we had created and made choices about the illustration style, such as colors, setting, and characters to represent.  It felt so good to see our finished collaborative work and know that together, we had created something completely new and unique.